Rough finish on hardwood floors

Q: I just had solid oak hardwood floors installed in a rental unit. I am disappointed by the rough finish. It appears that there was debris (and in some places brush hairs) under the oil-based poly, throughout. We’ve had hardwood installed in our home and the floors are completely smooth except some roughness around 1/4 inch at the edges near the baseboard.

When I asked the installer about it, he said that it wasn’t debris, it’s the wood grain that was raised when the poly was applied. He also said that he didn’t buff as thoroughly prior to applying the last coat as he generally does because of time constraints.

The pinholes/bumps are throughout all 3 of the rooms that were refinished, not really apparent in looking at it until you get down on the floor. However, the bumps can be felt in bare or stocking feet and some places are rough enough to snag a microfiber cloth. Nylon stocking feet would be destroyed on this floor finish.

The layout of the boards is beautiful, not one gap anywhere, so the rough finish on hardwood floors comes as a surprise. What would be required to obtain a smooth finish? Would this be considered a “sand and refinish” job or can it be resolved less drastically? This job took 3 weeks (had to lay plywood over a concrete composite subfloor). Would it be possible to do it one room at a time and what is a reasonable time frame?

A: Oil based polyurethane doesn’t raise wood grain. It could be considered normal to have an occasional tiny fleck if a tiny fiber comes loose from the applicator. But rough and pimply throughout? That’s not normal. I always strain my finishes after applying so that what is left is clean for the next job. I hope they checked for moisture in the concrete. With a rough finish the solution is to have the floor screened with a polisher and abrasive, hand sand all the edges, clean up well and apply another thin coat. So, no. A full sanding won’t be necessary.

Follow up Q: Thank you very much for your reply.

The installer explained the rough finish as a case of him not buffing that layer as “aggressively” as he would have liked because that churns up a lot more dust and he was operating with 25% less time than he initially thought he’d have to complete the job.

There was difficulty getting the wood delivered to this small island because of storms and the realty company scheduled a renter to come in a week earlier than initially planned. Since he knows more about floors than we do, we deferred to him on the judgement as to whether or not it was possible to complete the job in that time frame. It was 840 square feet, 15 steps. The wood was delivered on March 4 and he moved furniture back in on March 27th.

Is the time constraint a reasonable explanation for the rough finish throughout the floors (and possibly the stair gaps, see below)?

He had a moisture meter and said the wood was acclimated for a week where the install took place. From my understanding the “moisture barrier” is felt paper (I don’t know the weight) and it was placed on top of the plywood.

We don’t see any problems in the layout of the floor (no waviness, cupping, bowing, no squeaks). Is it possible those problems will show up later and if so, what is the earliest and latest they could appear? (A few weeks, months, years?)

Location is a very small island (700 people) and this guy was the most recommended by two realty companies, the guy in the only hardware store in town and some property and shop owners. We saw two other floors installed by him, two refinished by him and did not observe a rough finish on those floors. The realty company said he’s been doing this for 15 years and that he “stands behind his work”, but he didn’t offer to redo anything for us.

We want to be reasonable because we feel he did a very good job getting the rise in 15 steps to feel equal, even though the plywood and hardwood raised the floor from the steps/subfloor by 1 1/2 inches. Also, the overall appearance of the floors when you enter the room is “this looks great”. There were some tricky folding closet doors cut to fit new floors and 4 regular doors. Cleanup was thorough and the floors appear to be installed well (but what do we know about what might occur down the road) other than the finish.

The *appearance* of the steps is a separate issue. My husband didn’t notice, but my eye went immediately to some gaps in some of the steps between the skirt and the riser and/or the skirt and the tread–between 1/16 and 1/18 (not on every tread or riser and not on the same side). He said the risers fit perfectly until he started to install the treads, but the only solution he offered was to hide the gaps with some kind of thin moulding on the riser gaps and then we might not notice the tread gaps. We are inclined to live with those gaps unless it’s more than an aesthetic issue, because we can’t afford to have someone else replace the steps and he didn’t offer (and I think molding might draw more attention to the fact that there’s a problem than just leaving it alone).

Should we give him some slack on the stair gaps because he was retrofitting to an existing skirt? (Our stairs here at home appear to have had the skirt put on after the steps, as there is some putty in the skirt edge. It’s not as noticeable as if it had been on the riser or the tread.)

On a few of the steps (probably 3 or 4 out of 15) there were rough edges on the side of the treads, as if whatever he used to cut them didn’t have a sharp blade. Is there any way to fix that short of replacing the tread?

Given what needs to be done to fix the rough finish, what kind of time frame is reasonable to plan for the recommended fix for 840 square feet (2 bedrooms and a loft)? Is it possible to wait until the off-season (November) to do the recommended fix or does waiting make it more difficult because it’s had time to cure longer?

Given the description of his work in our unit combined with the recommendations that preceded him, are we better off sticking with him or trying to find someone else to do the screening, hand sanding, cleanup and application of another thin coat? If we stick with him, is it reasonable for us to expect him to do this at his expense or should we pay him a “refinishing” rate or what?

We don’t want to be unreasonable, especially since we have good relationships with many of the people who recommended the installer and we need to maintain good working relationships with the realty company, hardware store, etc. My husband thinks we should just live with the floors as is, as it’s a rental unit. But I can see renters complaining about snagging their stocking feet on the floors or being upset that they can’t walk around in bare feet because the floors are too rough. On the plus side, I guess there’s no problem with the floors being so slippery that people would fall!

Thank you again for your helpful reply.

A: There is too much in here to give a huge, detailed answer. There are also things I don’t even know. I didn’t know initially that this was on an island. I don’t know if the guy worked alone or had a crew.

I don’t know what the treads are or how he installed them. It sounds like they are solid slab, probably glued down and it sounds like they may have shifted a bit as the adhesive started to cure. Polyurethane adhesives can move in that what is being glued might move before it cures. I think you have to accept the stairs, and his solution of a very tiny trim piece could work. Given the time frame and the difficulty of getting on and off the island and the amount of work involved, I would tip my hat to him for getting it done.

As you say, when you walk in and generally look at the floors it looks great. So, it doesn’t actually look rough? It only feels rough? I think it would take me probably 6 hours working alone to buff, clean and coat the entire place. I’m 59. He would have been far better off to have taken an extra hour when doing the last coat. As a sign in my garage reads: Why is it there is never enough time to do the job right, but always enough time to do it over!

A re-coat can be done in off season, but you have to have heat in the place. If he is interested in a finish that performs consistently every time and rolls nicely he might want to give Poloplaz Primero a try.

Second Follow-up: Thanks so much for taking the time to reply Craig. We have found the installer to be a very nice person and do not want to be a pain as clients, so I turned to your expertise for guidance about what are reasonable expectations and what is no cause for concern. You have helped a great deal!

The installer usually works alone, but he had at least one other guy helping him this time. Treads are solid slab, but nailed (maybe he glued as well). Given that the gaps are just an aesthetic thing, I won’t worry about those.

It makes me feel better about continuing to work with this guy that your judgement is that the time frame was too short for the amount of work to be done.

The floors only look rough if you’re short, which we are (or in reflective light of course), and from chair height. But when you enter the place, the overall look of the red oak is great. When you run your hand over the surface, you can scratch your hand, so it would not be a good idea to walk around in bare feet, which most people do on an island. So I would like that fixed if it can be done fairly easily. If there’s ANY chance that the floors could look worse trying to fix the roughness, I’ll live with the roughness (unless the roughness is an indication that at least that layer of poly is not going to wear normally over time).

If it would only take a day for one person to buff, clean and coat the 840 sq feet of floors, should we expect us to pay the entire cost or is it reasonable to split it? If his refinishing rate is approx $3 per square foot, would the rate to buff, clean and do one coat be 1/2 of that, 1/4, or what % of the cost to refinish?

Dumb question: is buffing the same as sanding? If so, then we should prepare for him to do the work in the same way as when he installed the floor (e.g., removed everything from walls, covered furniture in other rooms in plastic, put bedding in contractor bags, etc.)?

Thank you for the recommendation of the Poloplaz Primero. Would it work to apply that over minwax brand? Would you be offended if a client suggested you might try a finish that you don’t normally use?

Thanks so much for helping to educate us!

P.S. We all can relate to the sign in your garage, no matter the profession.

A: Wow, he charges $3 per foot for sanding and finishing? No staining? Kudos to him. I only charge $%#&@ and at present, living in el cheapo Niagara Peninsula where, apparently many expect people to work for cost, I can hardly get work. I would probably charge around $1 per foot to buff and re-coat.

Buffing is done like this: down on hands and knees, hand sand the edges of the floor with fine sand paper. I generally use 120 grit. Then the floor area is polished with polisher and a screen mesh disc. Depending on the finish one will use anywhere from 220 grit to more coarse 180 or 150 grit. Then clean up and coat.

Using a different coating for the first time is nerve wracking because you don’t know if the product will perform the way you need it to. MinWax is OK but not the best. Another product, Fabulon, is from a division of that company and I used that product for years as an employee. The stuff is decent but unpredictable. Especially the gloss. None of these products will hold a candle to Primero satin. I fell in love with it from the first brush stroke. I got another guy to try it who was very nervous about it. His conclusion? “That is really good stuff!” If he does a good clean up and applies it with no air moving across the floor until it sets up, you will have a very tough, smooth floor.

Note from webmaster: Here’s a link to a related post from Face Lift Floors.

Similar Q: I just recently had my wood floors sanded and refinished with ebony stain and gloss poly. I am very dissatisfied with the finish – lots of hairs, etc., can be seen. The glossy finish I expected feels like an orange peel. What can we do to get the shiny floors we expected?

A: I pour my finish through a filter after each use to remove any debris that may have found it’s way into it. So, you have to start with a clean finish. After all preps have been achieved, carefully and thoroughly vacuum the floor and wipe it down with a micro weave mop or similar, then apply the finish. It is important to not allow a lot of air movement in the work area while the finish is setting up and has become tack free. You will have to have the floors lightly sanded, generally done with a polisher and a screen pad, 150-220 grit depending on the finish. Care has to be made not to cut through the finish and remove the stain. I hand sand the edges with 120 grit. It sounds like the finish was applied with a roller and perhaps it set up too fast and didn’t have time to flow out and level. I have been using Poloplaz Primero for years. It is just the nicest finish I’ve ever used. It rolls on beautifully and performs consistently very well.

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